To the editor:
Violence and addiction, twin demons that lurk unrestrained in the streets of Thunder Bay, crush this community and leave our national reputation in tatters. As we celebrate 50 years of the shot gun wedding of the former cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, it is time to sit down, take a deep breath, and consider its legacy.
Whether it be the peculiarity of the Municipal Act or bloody mindedness of city council, our city has been subject to the mercurial, even fanciful whim of city administrators, organized under a management system apparently free from the consequences for poor performance or rash undertakings. This disfunction is only partially revealed in lead stories in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and regional and national news broadcasts. National and regional media focus on the sensational - racism and murder rates. They do not address the broken record banality of city hall’s everyday decision making that has placed Thunder Bay behind crime scene tape in the eyes of Canadians.
Our national reputation aside, consider the fruit of city hall’s 50-year commitment to one size fits all urban planning fads. The feasibility study that brought us the failed Keskus mall was so inadequate it could be called preposterous. But covered malls were the fad of the day. Victoriaville mall, recommended by the same expert that midwifed Keskus and based on a failing mall in Quebec, was introduced to the city by planners who according to Alderman Kozyra could not describe, could not price and could not show the project to council. The only mall in North America to block its main streets, Victoriaville stands today, crippling the south side. Due to the thoroughness of the fiasco and the addition of a parking structure, Syndicate Avenue can never be fully restored, and we are told the cost of razing Victoriaville may be prohibitive.
Then there was the gambling casino, hyped as a mecca for big spending tourists. With our small catchment area, the casino siphons its revenues from local residents instead - cannibalizing the community. No one knows how much money the city wasted on the event centre, but recently the mayor suggested up to $5 million – all this to build a kind of spectator facility the Prime Minister himself declared on March 16th, 2011 would be ineligible for funding. The 2014 “event centre election,” little more than a public charade, extended the fairy tale until a few weeks after council was safely re-elected. The mining readiness strategy for the 55,000 jobs that never materialized, and the cruise ship strategy are mere footnotes to the city’s ruinous designs. While city administration’s waterfront and events centre fetish devoured the bulk of their attention to say nothing of our tax dollars, what happened to our city?
Balanced growth to preserve community spirit and unity – a crucial element of the Hardy report that facilitated amalgamation and rendered impossible with the Victoriaville fiasco - is today a derided notion. We became a magnet for criminal gangs. An opioid crisis exploded. Harm reduction programs reduce overdoses and stem disease transmission, but residents see collateral damage in needles and related paraphernalia strewn about the streets. Home invasions, vandalized cars, stabbings, shootings, murder and beatings are reported. Police are overwhelmed. Paramedics’ safety is at risk with their careers on the line should their deportment fail to meet impossible standards. The city seems content to accept lead levels in drinking water at twice the national guideline. Fires have broken out that have destroyed commercial buildings, the childrens’ underground gym and ravaged a bridge disrupting traffic to Fort William First Nations for years. The city has lost its willingness to reproduce itself with the Workforce Planning Board calling for 50,000 immigrants (the population of the former city of Fort William at amalgamation) within 25 years to replenish the labour force. A daunting task, as residents move away to look for employment, a healthier environment for their children, or they are just disgusted with the way this city is run.
Council’s shutdown of Dease Pool is a snapshot – a textbook example of everything the city has done to bring us to the state we are in. As planning fads prove unsound, our planners become excited about them. Thunder Bay has moved to demolish a swimming pool to embrace structured, organized activities for the children at Dease, just as Canada’s National Public Health Council (CPHA) and Chief Medical Officers of Health recommend the opposite. “Poor mental health” they report “has been linked to the decline in unstructured play opportunities and can lead to trouble forming and maintaining relationships with peers”. As best practise, municipalities should “establish a community wide approach to increasing access to unstructured play” owing to its far-reaching benefits at home, in the classroom and in communities. These opportunities they stress, should be in walkable distances from where children live and learn. This should be considered an integral part of every child’s healthy development and are embedded as Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CPHA cautions that unstructured activity is often limited by the child’s economic status, colour, gender, religion, culture or ethnic origin. But Dease pool, a free pool, a local pool, an inclusive pool - overcame all these limitations and went on to develop the kind of healthy citizen far less likely to get caught up in dysfunctional pursuits and diversions that surround them. The oldest pool in North America, Dease Pool has ticked all the boxes of a community’s obligations to its children and its future for over a century. It has been a glowing candle in a demon haunted ward. In other cities it would be revered. In other cities, it would be the anchor of a tourist attraction.
With respect to the Junot Avenue rezoning application, the city declared that: “Public comment has been received and considered and has had no effect on Council’s Decision…”. No effect. We see the same results with Dease Pool. City government has given itself permission to be arrogantly hostile to the way of life around it.
Shotgun weddings rarely end well.